The process of hiring a consulting firm to review academic and non-academic programs continues at the University of Mary Washington.
“A university, college or any other provider of educational services must provide products and services our customers want at a price they feel is appropriate for the value they receive,” said Rick Pearce, vice president for administration and finance.
According to Pearce, the products UMW offers are classes, degrees and accommodations for students and extracurricular activities. The customers who purchase these the University provides include students and parents.
Pearce says that, by attending a school of higher education, students are purchasing a degree. As a customer, students make the decision to attend a certain university based on the idea that the purchase will provide a benefit.
“We have to sell a product and a service that you think is valuable enough to pay for,” said Pearce.
When students graduate, Pearce says that they need to leave UMW with the idea that the degree was worth the cost.
“If they don’t do that, we are failing at our job,” said Pearce.
Pearce says that the faculty provides the most important product, the education.
For this reason, President Rick Hurley wants the reexamination process to be faculty driven, with the consulting firm only used for guidance, according to Pearce.
“It has to be a faculty-driven process, or it won’t work,” said Pearce.
To make a profit, a business must be able to sell and produce its product successfully.
UMW receives its revenue from state taxpayer funds, educational fees other than tuition, grants and foundation-provided scholarship and operating funds, according to Pearce. The funds from these resources are used to fund academic programs, while auxiliary fees, those from room-and-board and parking decal fees, are used to support and build facilities.
Due to a reduction in state funding and the push to hold down tuition revenue, UMW expects little to no new money to spend, according to Pearce.
In terms of operation, UMW is just like any other public school of the same size in the way that it handles its business aspects, according to Pearce.
Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities and former professor in the classics department at the University of Virginia, gave a speech to the UVA faculty on Oct. 15, 2012. Rawlings spoke of the “Plight of the Public University in the age of accountability.”
Rawlings spoke about a “greater instability” than he had ever seen in American higher education. Rawlings said that this instability “threatens to weaken American education for decades to come, to lower our quality of life and to harm our national competitiveness.”
Rawlings believes that the “old public compact” that America once had is now almost gone.
“When I was a kid growing up in the 1950’s, higher education was a democratic value, a public good,” said Rawlings. “Higher education for us had two chief purposes: to become contributing citizens in a democracy and to prepare for a lifetime of personal learning and appreciation of culture.”
Rawlings compared the higher education of the 1950’s with the higher education of today as a “utilitarian necessity” with its main purpose “to prepare students to get a job.”
According to Rawlings, in the 1950s, the state paid two-thirds of the cost to attend a public university, with the student paying only one third, which is the opposite of today.
At UMW, state funds make up 22 percent of the University’s budget, and tuition and comprehensive fees make up 52 percent of the budget, according to Pearce.
Rawlings said that society is using universities as a solution to practical problems, such as students finding jobs immediately after graduation to pay off the cost of their education. However, Rawlings emphasizes that this role should be a secondary one.
“This is crucial, it is a secondary role of universities, subservient to their primary role as educators and as discoverers and transmitters of knowledge,” said Rawlings
The ongoing review process at UMW has created much concern along these lines.
About 50 faculty members met in Trinkle Hall on Thursday, Nov. 15 to discuss the consulting firm being hired to review academic programs.
“When people hear of things related to outside review, there is concern,” said Debra Schleef, chair of the sociology and anthropology department and the chair of the University Faculty Council (UFC).
The UFC and faculty members want a review process that they are involved, according to Schleef.
“We want a process where we can say ‘we,’” said Schleef.
The faculty has recently compiled a petition for President Rick Hurley in which an unprecedented number of faculty members signed.
In the petition, the faculty agreed with Hurley that it is important to continue to make UMW a “premier liberal arts institution.” However, the faculty petition asks him to wait to hire a consultant and review the academic programs until the school has a permanent, the feedback from the SACs accreditation process is given, and to create a group of faculty members to review and decide if the academic review is necessary.
According to Schleef regarding the student body, there is reason for concern, but there is no reason for panic.
“This is your alma mater, you should want to have a stake in shaping it,” said Schleef.
The Board of Visitors and Hurley are willing to listen and want to hear what students and faculty have to say, according to Schleef.
On Wednesday, Nov. 28, the Faculty Senate held a meeting where Hurley spoke with the faculty about the review process.
In the meeting, Hurley discussed the financial issues at the university and the constant pressure of the issue of affordability.
Hurley also discussed how, as an institution, UMW lost its competitive position in the Virginia market.
“As an institution, we did little to improve our position,” said Hurley.
Hurley mentioned two issues that UMW faces: the issue of recruitment and the issue of distinctiveness. UMW is a small liberal arts and sciences institution and, according to Hurley, must continue to hold its niche.
“My only objective is to do what we do the best we possibly can,” said Hurley.
In terms of distinctiveness, Hurley questioned what proposals could bring in more students and if they would be self-supporting.
Hurley also emphasized that the review process would be completely “A to Z,” no area would be left out of the process. Both academic and non-academic programs will be included in the review.
The review process will be looking at how the university is resourced. It will not only look at the academics but it will also look at the activities and operations, according to Hurley. The entire process will take about nine months to a year.
“This is not about program evaluation,” said Hurley. “ This is about how are we resourced in those areas.”
After Hurley spoke, the room was opened to questions and discussion from the faculty and students in attendance at the meeting.
The first question posed to Hurley was on the status of the consultant. According to Hurley, no contract has been signed and they are still in conversation.
Hurley said that there is no intention of hiding the faculty from the academic side of the review process. The concern for how the faculty members will be involved in the process and how they will be chosen was also raised.
Questions of what criteria the review process will be based on were also expressed. Hurley responded that he envisioned a meaningful conversation between administration, faculty and the consultant to determine what the criteria will be.
The faculty expressed to Hurley that their mistrust is rooted in them not being informed directly about changed and finding out about them through other means. Their fear is based on experience, not rumors, one faculty member said.
Although the faculty will be involved in the process, according to Hurley, the decision of the process will ultimately come down to the president.
“Ultimately I am the one responsible for this institution,” said Hurley. “I will be the one held accountable.”